By Michelle Davis, UGA Law Class of 2015
Metadata, generally speaking, is data that describes other data. In the context of music, metadata is the identifying and descriptive information embedded in a digital song file. For example, when you play a song in iTunes, metadata is used to populate the “artist,” “song title,” and “album” fields. When you use Shazam to identify a song, the information it digs up for you is drawn from metadata. When YouTube’s Content ID system, which monitors user uploads, identifies potentially infringing content, it relies on metadata. In a digital marketplace, metadata is absolutely essential for promoting discovery, providing attribution, and delivering royalty payments.
Where Does Metadata Come From?
A great deal of metadata is embedded during the mastering process. Before you send your freshly produced record off to be mastered, verify with the engineer that embedding metadata is part of the mastering services (it should be). As the recording artist, you can help facilitate this process by compiling all the relevant data before sending the recording off to be mastered. If you aren’t sure what information to include, The Music Business Toolbox offers a great pre-release checklist that you can use, as well as spreadsheets and forms to help you record and organization all your valuable data.
Consistency and accuracy are paramount in this process. Double and triple check the spelling and punctuation of all your metadata. The data embedded in the sound recording must match exactly with the data submitted to performance rights organizations, record labels, publishers, aggregators, and any other party that is involved in distributing your music or collecting royalties on your behalf. Once you release a song, it is almost impossible to un-ring that bell. A spelling error or typo in your metadata, once it’s released out into the ether, could mean misdirected royalty payments, misattribution, and unnecessarily lost opportunities.
Although there are globally unique identifiers that are associated with compositions and recordings (e.g., ISWCs for musical compositions, ISRCs for sound recordings, and UPC barcodes for packaged collections of music, among others), and those should absolutely be embedded in your metadata as well, many rights organizations still rely on semantic matching (i.e., using words instead of numbers) to determine royalty payouts. SoundExchange, for example, does not require digital streaming services to report ISRCs. So instead, a digital radio station may submit its playlist using only song titles and artist names. The radio station will rely on your accurate metadata for recordation, and SoundExchange must match the submitted playlists with their database of registered artists to distribute royalties.
Unfortunately, depending on the technological sophistication of the user, the metadata you so carefully craft may not always be extracted automatically. Instead, you may have a user writing down a playlist by hand and sending that over to the performance rights organizations (e.g., ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.; collectively, the “PROs”). There is inevitably room for error. The risk is greater if you have a band name with unusual spelling or punctuation (e.g., Chvrches, SBTRKT, !!!, etc.). If you have a feeling someone is going to get your band name wrong, go ahead and give SoundExchange a ring. They can accept alternative spellings to help them track down all the digital performances of your sound recording. In fact, at a metadata panel at the Future of Music Policy Summit last fall, SoundExchange’s Director of Repertoire Management, Chris Yorks, said there are “over 100 spellings of the band INXS” in the SoundExchange database.
For that matter, if you are still working out the name for your recording project, considering the metadata implications isn’t a terrible idea. At the same Future of Music Summit, rights management guru Jim Griffin warned, “You do no not want to be ‘Guns N apostrophe Roses’ in a semantic matching world… It’s as if wire transfers between bank accounts happen with names instead of unique bank numbers and accounting numbers.” And while experts in the industry are pushing for a day when globally unique identifiers replace semantic matching, we aren’t quite there yet.
Where Should You Submit your Song Information?
So you’ve read our advice and now you have a fancy spreadsheet of all your rights, recording, and ownership information. Besides embedding that information into the song files themselves, what else can you do with all that valuable data? Here are a few options:
PROs: Composers and publishers must register their new titles with their PRO to collect public performance royalties. The PRO will assign the ISWC. Recording artists must also register their performances with SoundExchange to collect digital performance royalties.
Track sales and commercial airplay: If you want to keep up with commercial album sales and radio spins, submit your release information to databases like Nielsen SoundScan, Mediabase and Nielsen BDS. Mediabase and BDS power Billboard and USA Today charts.
Biographical information: You know those little artist bios that pop up on iTunes, AllMusic, and Pandora? They help listeners connect with you as an artist and direct new fans to prior works. You can submit bio information and related data to Rovi.
Lyrics: Music fans will likely be searching for your lyrics, and you want them to be able to find you (not to mention the royalty stream lyrics provide). Type up the words and submit them to lyric display engines like LyricFind, or make sure you publisher has access to them.
Tour Dates: You want everyone Googling your name to know if you are on tour. Databases like BandsInTown can help.
And that’s just a start. Click through this awesome metadata Powerpoint from the Future of Music Coalition for more metadata information and tips, and feel free to reach out to our office directly if you have any questions about this process – we are always eager to help our clients track and collect all of the royalties to which they are entitled.